Morning Routine Advice From Times Readers and Reporters

There’s a lot of power in having a morning routine. It reduces decision fatigue and can help you be more productive through the day.

You can also start the day more informed. Many New York Times readers do so by starting their days with the Morning Briefing. Last week we asked this group to tell us about their morning routines.

All told, 331 readers shared their routine with us. Among the most mentioned items: Coffee (126 mentions), prayer or meditation (84), running/walking (95) or exercise (94), breakfast (97) and planning the night before (35).

Below is some advice culled from Times reporting and offered by Times readers for each of these components of a successful morning routine.

Coffee

The Times Cooking section has written directions on how to make specialties like cold brew coffee, Irish coffee and New Orleans Cold Drip. We’ve also written how to simply brew a better cup of coffee.

A lot of readers wrote in to talk about the advantages of starting their morning routine the night before, including picking out clothes, lining up emails to respond to, and preparing the next day’s food. We’ve written about the power of leveraging To-Do lists before, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be that itemized.

Reader May B. from New York shares:

I prep for the next day the night before. I make overnight oats, or leave the ingredients for my omelet ready. I lay down my running gear for the morning before I go to bed and I make a mental map of what I am going to wear to work so I don’t spend time rummaging my closet in the morning. I have 3 roommates so organization is key.

If a healthy breakfast is part of your morning routine, by all means stick with it. But those who might skip it shouldn’t feel too bad. As The Upshot has explained in the past, there’s nothing magical about breakfast.

But for those who still enjoy it, we have a bunch of great breakfast recipes you can sort through here.

And, of course, there can mental benefits to having breakfast. Reader Elizabeth R. from Italy shares:

I always, always eat breakfast and make sure I am sitting down, with full service (plate or bowl and silverware and place mat), by my kitchen window. It may be only for 5 minutes some mornings but the point is I’ve had that moment.

MARCH 15, 2017

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Go You earned it – Now protect it

A few years ago, my husband and I were in Las Vegas for a much-needed vacation. We were shopping and stopped at a café that offered free wireless. I didn’t have my phone with me, but I did have my USB player that is Wi-Fi enabled and wanted to check the headlines and my email. We were in the café for about 10 minutes. Fully caffeinated and caught up on the news, we went on our way.

While still on vacation, I received a courtesy call from our bank wanting to know if I’d recently authorized a purchase to an online music service. “Yes I did, for about $15,” I replied, remembering I’d downloaded some music and videos to watch on my player before we left.

On our way home from the airport, I tried to use my check card at the gas station and it was declined. I was stunned and embarrassed… and then panicked. As our family’s CFO, I know at all times how much money we have available. I knew we had plenty of funds in our checking account, even after our vacation spending. I hurriedly paid with a credit card and went home to call our bank.

After a lot of phone calls and research, I put together what happened. I’d saved my check card as a form of payment on the online music service account – I like to pay cash for just about everything. In those few moments at the café while I was online, a hacker was able to view my account information and pull my check card number. The thieves accessed our checking account tentatively at first, with a $1 preauthorization to what looked like it came from the music service – that’s what generated the courtesy call. Once I told the bank that I believed that charge was legitimate, the floodgates were open: in small increments that would be undetectable to the unobservant, the hacker charged our checking account for hundreds of dollars.

I’ll save you the painful details of what I had to go through to get our account reimbursed, but I’d also like to save you from being in a similar predicament. Individual attacks might seem unlikely; it’s clearly a bigger score for a thief to gain access to thousands of accounts at once through a security breach. But considering my experience, you should be aware that theft can happen on an individual basis, too.

You’ve earned your money and built your credit carefully, so here are some tips to help you protect what’s yours:

  • Consider purchasing an RFID wallet. I’ve not seen a fashionable one yet, but looks aren’t everything! If you have cards that allow wireless pay (you wave the card in front of a reader), those cards could be vulnerable. RFID wallets create a barrier between your cards and scanning devices, helping you eliminate unwanted access while your cards are in the wallet.
  • Carry only the card(s) you know you’ll use during any given outing. You don’t need them all! Lock the rest in a secured fireproof box at home.
  • Record each credit card number and the customer service number for each account you have. Then lock that document away in case your wallet is stolen. Remember to update your list when you get a new card or close an account.
  • Consider an identity theft protection service. Look for a reputable service that offers limits of protection that match your needs. Enter all account information and update it regularly.
  • Designate one card with a low limit for online purchases. This is one way to minimize your risks and also monitor online spending. And if a website looks sketchy or it isn’t clear that the site is secure, don’t make a purchase.
  • Keep your Social Security card at home, not in your wallet. Also, use extreme caution in the few legitimate instances it’s required online
  • Run a credit report on yourself once a year. This is a great way to monitor your activity, make sure your credit score is healthy and spot any incorrect information or fraud.
  • Don’t use unsecured, unprotected networks. If you’re not sure whether the wireless access offered at a public place is secure, take this sage advice from my grandmother: “If in doubt, don’t.”

Keep in mind that as technology evolves every day, so do the methods that thieves use to capture your information. You deserve to reap the rewards of your hard work and to keep your accounts and personal information safe.

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By

Playground Safety 101. Keep Your Children Safe

A playground is a great environment to let your kids explore, develop motor and social skills and blow off some steam before bedtime. Am I right parents? It’s important to teach your children how to be safe and act responsibly on a playground, which is what Playground Safety Week is all about. According to the National Safety Council, each year more than 200,000 children visit hospital emergency rooms because of playground injuries. Teaching kids how to play safely helps keep them confident on the equipment and give parents or supervisors the reassurance that kids know their boundaries. Here are some easy tips to follow:

  • An adult needs to supervise and be present while kids are playing.
  • No roughhousing! Never push others on the equipment.
  • Use the equipment how it’s intended and choose age-appropriate equipment. (No standing on swings or sliding down face-first.)
  • Dress appropriate for play. Wear clothes that don’t have drawstring or cords that could get caught on the equipment. Tennis shoes will support little feet best, and don’t forget sunscreen.
  • Don’t use playground equipment when it’s wet. Slippery surfaces can lead to falls and injuries.
  • In warm weather, playground equipment can become dangerously hot to the touch. If it’s too hot, it’s not safe to play on.

Play is an important part of kids’ physical, social and intellectual development. Teach your kids how to play safe and join in the fun!

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Beyond life insurance: Helpful tips when a loved one dies

After the loss of a loved one, you may be faced with the overwhelming responsibility of making funeral arrangements, notifying friends and family and handling the estate. During that time, it is often very hard to think of all the things that need to be done and what questions to ask. Having a clear picture in advance can help alleviate additional stress.

Use this checklist as a starting place, as this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. Consider these some of the essential steps to be taken when a loved one dies.

  • Contact a funeral home to make preparations. Ask the funeral director to help obtain certified copies of the death certificate. Be sure to get multiple copies, as survivors will need these to file for life insurance and other benefits. The funeral director may also be able to assist in writing an obituary.
  • Notify the deceased person’s employer, if applicable. Speak with the Human Resources department about any paperwork to be completed, benefits and pay due to the estate and whether the deceased had life insurance through the employer. Find out the options to continue medical coverage for family members covered under the company’s health plan.
  • Locate important documents, such as a will, birth certificate, Social Security card, bank statements, car titles or property deeds.
  • Check with military, fraternal or religious groups if the deceased was a member. The organization may provide benefits or want to participate in funeral services.
  • Contact Social Security, Veterans Affairs and other applicable agencies, such as pension services, to stop payments and inquire about survivor benefits.
  • Check for any life insurance policies and contact the company about filing a claim. Ask what documents are needed, how long the process takes and what to expect during the process. If you don’t know if your loved one had life insurance, try contacting your state insurance department to find out if it has a resource to search for missing life insurance policies. You may need the person’s name, date of birth, Social Security number and address to conduct the search or request information.
  • Contact an attorney to review the will of the deceased, if applicable. If items need to go through probate, ask how that process works.
  • Open a bank account for the deceased’s estate, if necessary, for refunds, overpayments or benefits to be paid even after the estate is settled. The executor may be the only one allowed to open such an account.
  • Make arrangements to pay outstanding bills. Contact service providers, such as utility companies, cable, internet and phone, to change or discontinue services. Reviewing a bank or credit card statement may help to identify less obvious monthly payments or charges, like gym memberships, home security or other in-home or club services.
  • Contact any banks, financial institutions or other companies where the decedent had an account or financial interest. Each institution or company probably has its own requirements for collecting the funds. Confer with an adviser before cashing out any investments.
  • Ask a friend or relative to keep an eye on the person’s home, collect mail and take care of any pets on a temporary basis. Don’t let the house appear vacant.
  • Alert the post office to forward any mail.

Remember to ask questions — lots of them. If you don’t understand or just don’t know, ask. Take a notebook with you to appointments, so you can make notes of the meetings. The added emotional stress of this difficult time can make it challenging to retain or understand all the information given to you. Taking notes can help you break it down into more manageable chunks.

And don’t try to handle it all on your own. Find a trusted friend, family member or support group to help you through the process.

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6 Ways You Shouldn’t Ride Your Motorcycle

Flip flops, shorts and a T-shirt are great to wear at the beach, but if worn while riding a motorcycle, they look silly and are truly dangerous. Unfortunately, everyone has seen someone on the road who seems to be under the false impression that riding a motorcycle is about being reckless and narrowly cheating death.

However, experienced bikers know how to enjoy the exhilarating freedom of the open road with responsibility, skill and confidence. This is because they know how not to ride.

Inspired by DISCOVERY NEWS’ article on motorcycle safety tips, here are six ways you shouldn’t ride your motorcycle:

  1. Uneducated

    Motorcycles are powerful vehicles, and you need to educate yourself if you want the responsibility of yielding that power. The Motorcycle Safety Foundation® has riding courses all over the country that will teach you useful techniques, maintenance procedures and evasive emergency maneuvers. It’s important to have these skills and knowledge before you take to the open road.

  2. Unfocused

    Skillful bikers are always focused, alert and defensive. Especially in situations with heavy traffic, you should always assume you are invisible to other vehicles. According to Consumer Reports, it was found that in collisions between motorcycles and cars, the car drivers were at fault 60 percent of the time. Therefore, paying special attention to car drivers who are on cell phones, maintaining a safe following distance and being on constant lookout for upcoming road hazards will help you protect yourself from the unexpected.

  3. Underdressed

    When preparing to ride, you should don your finest threads… your finest leather gear, that is. Jackets, gloves, full pants and over-the-ankle footwear are what you’ll need to protect yourself from wind chill, bugs, debris and road rash. Helmets are also essential. Consumer Reports states that riders without helmets are 40 percent more likely to suffer a fatal head injury in a crash. Purchasing a strong, lightweight and comfortable helmet is one of the best investments you can make.

  4. Uncomfortable

    To ride safely and make the most of the experience, your bike should be the perfect fit for you. Make sure the handle bars are within reach, the bike isn’t too heavy and that you have the right engine for how you plan to ride. Also, ride within your skills. Don’t let anyone pressure you into doing anything you are uncomfortable with, like weaving in and out of traffic or accelerating to fast speeds.

  1. Under the Influence

  2. Though it may seem obvious, it cannot be emphasized enough how important it is to always ride sober. According to the CDC, 27 percent of motorcyclists killed in crashes in 2013 had BACs of 0.08 percent or greater. Focus, balance and coordination are required for safely riding a motorcycle, but, as this statistic sadly illustrates, alcohol negatively impacts all three of these abilities.
  3. Naked

    Oh, the indecency! You’d be surprised to learn how many bikers ride naked — or as some may say — without the proper insurance coverage. Like it or not, you won’t always be in control.

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Prepare for Spring Storms: Evaluate Your Flood Coverage Now

Basic Homeowners Insurance Does Not Cover Floods:
Evaluate your need for flood insurance now.

According to the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), all 50 states have experienced floods or flash floods in the past five years. Even just a few inches of water can cause tens of thousands of dollars in damage, so before you’re faced with rising water in your area, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers this information to help you get smart about your flood insurance options. The NAIC also has tips on how to prepare before a storm hits and what to expect if you need to file a claim.

Flood Insurance Basics
The NFIP defines flooding as a general and temporary condition where two or more properties or two or more acres of normally dry land are inundated by water or mudflow. Although anyone could sustain a loss from flooding, not everyone faces the same level of risk. The NFIP helps communities understand their risk with flood maps. Risk levels are divided into three categories:

  • High-risk areas have at least a 1% chance of flooding annually. All homeowners in these areas with mortgages from the federally regulated or insured lenders are required to buy flood insurance.
  • Moderate-to-low-risk areas have less chance of flooding annually, but the possibility is not completely removed. Flood insurance in these areas is not required, but it is recommended for all property owners and renters.
  • Undetermined-risk areas are where flood-hazard analysis has not been conducted, but a flood risk still exists.

The standard flood insurance policy pays for direct physical damage to your insured property up to the replacement cost or actual cash value (ACV) of actual damages, or the policy limit of liability, whichever is less. It covers structural damage, including damage to the furnace, water heater, air conditioner, flooring and debris clean-up. Coverage for basements, crawlspaces and ground-level enclosures on elevated homes is limited, so talk to your insurance agent about any restrictions in your policy. The contents of your home are not covered under a standard policy.

How to Buy Flood Insurance
Homeowners, renters, and business owners are eligible to purchase flood insurance through the NFIP if their community participates in the program. Flood insurance is only sold by licensed insurance agents in your area. The NFIP offers an agent locator to help you find a local agent. If you are in a high-risk area, or would like to find out more about flood insurance, contact your insurance provider to find out if your community participates in the NFIP and to get a quote.

It’s important to note that flood insurance does not go into effect immediately. Most policies have a 30-day waiting period, so plan accordingly if you are looking to purchase flood insurance.

Flood Insurance Reform
In July 2012, Congress passed the Biggert-Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012 (Biggert-Waters). The law extended the NFIP for five more years and mandated significant reforms to make the NFIP more financially stable. As provisions of Biggert-Waters began to take effect, however, the reforms had unintended consequences for some homeowners, who saw their flood insurance premiums dramatically increase.

To help ease the burden of these increases, the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act of 2014 was signed into law in March 2014. This law does not completely replace Biggert-Waters, but it does modify or repeal some provisions of the previous law. One of the most significant changes in the Homeowner Flood Insurance Affordability Act is that it lowers or prevents rate increases for some flood insurance policyholders. It also provides refunds to policyholders paying increased premiums due to Biggert-Waters.

For more information on how flood insurance reforms may impact you, contact your insurance provider or state insurance department.

More Information
You can find more information on disaster preparedness at Insure U. The NAIC is also offering tips on what to do before the storm hits and how to file a claim if you suffer a loss.

Your state insurance department can also answer questions about flood insurance or severe weather threats in your area.

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SOURCE NAIC

Have a plan: Prepare your family for tornadoes

While tornadoes can occur throughout the year, spring and early summer are peak months in most of the United States. Prepare to respond to a tornado by stocking your emergency kit, updating your family’s emergency communication plan and checking your insurance coverage.

“Tornado alley” in the southern Plains states has a statistically higher tornado occurrence, but National Climatic Data Center records show tornadoes can happen in any state. While there is nothing you can do to prevent a tornado, there is much you can do to prepare your family for recovery from a tornado.

Think about your home, school, place of worship or other locations where family members are likely to spend time, and discuss a safe location where you might go for shelter in those locations.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) tornado preparedness website advises that you go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar or the lowest building level. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck.

Ready.gov also urges all families to assemble a disaster preparedness kit and to create a family communication plan.

Assemble a disaster supplies kit

FEMA recommends you assemble a supply kit that includes three days of food and water for each member of your household. You can assemble one yourself or purchase pre-assembled kits in storage buckets from your local shopping club. Store the items in your designated household safe location for immediate access in an emergency.

Remember to include:

  • flashlight and fresh batteries
  • emergency radio
  • first aid kit
  • whistle to signal for help
  • wrench or pliers to turn off utilities

Ready.gov offers a complete list of items to include in your emergency kit. And when assembling your kit, remember to plan for your household pets.

Create a family communication plan

Because your family may not be together when disaster strikes, FEMA recommends that you create contact cards for adult family members to keep in your wallet or purse. Put copies in each child’s backpack or book bag, too.

Designate an out-of-town friend or relative to act as a contact point. If your family is separated, have family members check in with your contact person using a cell phone or prepaid calling card. Families who text may find that text messages can get through when cell phone or landline calls cannot.

Check your insurance coverage

Finally, check with Advantage Insurance Agency BEFORE a disaster strikes. We can review your coverage and make sure you don’t have costly gaps in the event of a loss.

You can’t stop a tornado, but having the plan and the supplies you need can make recovery easier.

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By Laura Hobbs

Technology improves efficiency, driving habits

Everyone has driven down the highway and has seen that sign on the back of a vehicle that reads, “How’s my driving? Call (a toll-free number)” Those signs have been a part of the driving landscape for many years and are still in use today as part of the burgeoning industry that gathers vehicle use information. The term used today for electronically gathering and reporting vehicle use information is “vehicle telematics.”

The technology employed today has grown far beyond the simple bumper sticker of the past. Anyone wanting to use vehicle telematics has many options to choose from. Equipment can range from simple devices that plug into a motor vehicle’s event data recorder (EDR) – an automotive “black box” – to large units mounted on the vehicle’s roof that send real-time information to the data monitoring company.

What is being done with this information? Depending on the level of information collected, fleet managers using vehicle telematics can realize multiple benefits. With the help of vehicle telematics, a business can:

  • Spot trends in fuel usage to improve efficiency and reduce costs
  • Pinpoint and track vehicle locations
  • View and analyze delivery routes for more efficient routing
  • Identify unsafe driving habits so that you can provide additional driver training; improved driving habits can lead to fewer vehicle accidents and reduced automobile insurance costs

Towers Watson, an international risk and capital management company, asserts that with fleets, crash reductions are well in excess of 50 percent by using telematics. (Source: Towers Watson.)

Those opposed to the use of vehicle telematics see it as another step toward the time when everything we do is monitored and recorded. However, business owners and their employees have an obligation to protect company property and their customers’ property and to research ways to reduce operating costs. Vehicle telematics can be an effective tool to help fulfill these obligations.

Some insurance companies make vehicle telematics programs available to their policyholders. Independent vehicle telematics companies also market their services directly to the public. Do your research. See what is available.

If you are interested in a vehicle telematics program, the first step is to educate yourself about available options. There are many places to look for information; do your own searches on the Internet or speak with others in your industry.

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Children Act Fast – Poison Prevention For Your Kids

Last night I heard clamoring from our bathroom – not a good sign when you know your one–year–old can pull everything out of the cabinets within 10 seconds. I opened the door about two inches, but found that it quickly became lodged onto the bathroom cabinet. Through the small crack I could see my little girl pulling all of my husband’s toiletries out of the cupboard. By the time I managed to get through the door, she had uncovered almost everything – but that wasn’t my biggest concern. With a bottle of aftershave in one hand, the cap in the other, and a quick sniff of her cologne–filled breath, I realized she decided to have a taste.

Children act fast.

It’s true. When kids are at the age when they want to explore and touch everything in sight (and put things in their mouth like my little one) it’s especially important to take simple precautions that will keep your kids safe from poison.

Keep the following out of sight and out of reach:

  • Medicine, with caps tightly locked
  • Household cleaning products
  • Makeup and toiletries, which can be hazardous
  • Purses, bags and briefcases

And remember the following while considering child safety in your home:

  • Do not mix household products/chemicals. Dangerous gases could be emitted.
  • Child-proof drawers and cabinets within reach of children with safety locks.
  • Install a carbon monoxide alarm and help prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning by keeping your furnace, appliances, fireplaces and stoves in good repair.

Fortunately, my little girl didn’t digest enough aftershave to cause sickness, but it was a wake–up call and did quickly reorganize our toiletries so they’d be out of reach of our kids. If you have kids under the age of five, I’d encourage you to do the same.

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Article By: Foremost Creative Team

Gardening tips to protect your green thumb … and more

Gardening can be a great way to simply enjoy the outdoors, beautify your yard, plant fruits or vegetables and get physical activity. No matter the reason, be aware of some basic gardening health and safety tips.

WHAT TO WEAR

Nature’s power can be deceptive, so protect your body from the sun, plants, soil and insects.

  • Dress in light loose-fitting clothing, long sleeves and pants, wide-brimmed hats, sunglasses and sunscreen to lower the risk for sunburn and skin cancer
  • Pull on gloves to lower the risk for skin irritations, cuts and soil contaminants
  • Wear sturdy, comfortable shoes for support and protection
  • Apply insect repellent to dissuade mosquitoes and ticks, which can carry diseases
WHAT TO DO

It’s easy to get enthusiastic and overdo, so take care with your body to avoid physical injuries, and do a warmup if you’re planning heavy physical work.

  • Follow proper lifting, squatting and reaching techniques; for example, when lifting from the ground, start from a squatting position and bend from the knees to protect your back
  • Avoid prolonged repetitive motions such as digging, raking, trimming, pruning or planting that may cause skin, tendon or nerve irritation
  • Protect your muscles from overuse by varying your gardening activities and rotating tasks
  • Follow manufacturer’s instructions for chemicals and use mowers and other equipment properly, as powered and unpowered and equipment can cause serious injury
  • Remain aware of hazards and distractions around you; focus on one task at a time
WHEN TO REST

Gardening for even short periods of time in high temperatures can cause serious health problems.

  • Monitor closely your activities and time in the sun to lower your risk for heat related illness
  • Watch for signs of heat-related illnesses, such as high body temperature, headache, rapid pulse, dizziness, nausea, confusion or unconsciousness
  • Drink more fluids, especially water, if you’re outside in hot weather for most of the day; don’t wait until you are thirsty
  • Avoid drinking liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar
  • Rest in the shade and immediately stop working if you experience breathlessness or muscle soreness

Following these tips will help ensure your gardening season is safe and injury free.

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